Lungworm or Heartworm?

Do you know the difference?

The UK natively carries diseases and parasites that infect dogs.
Did you also know that ‘foreign dogs’ are incorrectly blamed for ‘bringing disease’ into the UK?

Link to the original article that caused us concern, after people began to worry that dogs from Hungary were bringing over diseases like ‘French Heartworm’:

Our qualified animal expert and CEO Klaudia Glázer (who studied Animal Sciences at Szent István Egyetem) explains the situation:

“This article I linked is one of the things confusing people. It uses the descriptive name ‘heartworm’ in the title alongside ‘Lungworm’. In fact, this article is purely about Lungworm. You learn about parasites and diseases in the first year, in the first semester at vet school. Fact one; the article claims the transition occurs in the case of eaten slugs and snails. We already know that the UK parasite can be transmitted by frogs too if they are eaten by a dog. So if your dog likes to chase things, it’s likely they will chase and eat a bouncy frog.

The UK parasite we are talking about is Angiostrongylus Vasorum, Lungworm but it can be called ‘French heartworm’ which is where I take issue with this article and many others. It is a species of parasitic nematode (a tiny worm). The worm causes the disease ‘Canine Angiostrongylosis’ in dogs. It cannot be transmitted to humans.

Lungworm larvae are found in infected slugs, snails and frogs. Lungworm can be found all over the U.K. but more commonly in southern England and Wales. Dogs and foxes can become infected with the parasite by eating infected frogs, slugs, snails or coming into contact with the areas they have passed over (slime trail). Dogs love to lick all kinds of disgusting things!

What treatment is there for this Lungworm, The UK version [Angiostrongylus Vasorum]? When the infection is caught early, routine anti-parasite treatment is all that will be needed to clear your dog of the worms. This means continuing with your monthly worming treatment from the vet, or they may need an extra tablet to be sure the Lungworm is entirely killed off.

You can usually see Lungworm posters in vet’s waiting rooms, and your vet may have spoken to you about it when they give your dog it’s yearly check up.” If you have the packet of your dog’s medicine near by, you will see Lungworm on the list of parasites it protects against.”

The reason Klaudia is so vocal about the difference between Lungworm and Heartworm – also the fact that neither can be passed to humans – is that in the dog rescue community foreign dogs and by proxy, foreign dog rescues are often blamed for animals in the UK getting sick. People share misinformation from social media, or comment on posts with their opinions, not with actual scientific facts. The scaremongering even reports that humans can be infected by Heartworm.

“Let’s talk about other type of parasite, the Heartworm from overseas, and I’ll explain soon why people mix it up. This ‘foreign’ parasite is called Diofilaria Immitis. Did you know that it’s only transmitter is mosquitoes… and out of all the mosquitoe species in the world only the following; Aedes, Culex, Anopheles, Mansonia can be carriers?

This type of Heartworm is also a species of parasitic nematodes, but it belongs to the Onchocercidae family of parasites… this is not the same as the UK one which belongs to the Metastrongylidae family. The family name is different, the parasite looks different, acts differently and is completely separate.

The issue with the ‘foreign’ Heartworm is that it is more stubborn and cannot be killed with common anti-parasite treatment. That is why people get worried. It feeds on naturally occurring Proteobacteria in the blood, hence the treatment is Doxycycline (an antibiotic) 10mg per 1kg of the weight of the dog. This treatment can go on for many months, and sometimes the dog needs an injection if the infestation of worms is severe. You may have seen some of our rescue dogs are Heartworm positive, we take them on and cure them where possible.”

Klaudia works as part of the team at the shelter in Hungary and as the head of Paw Pose Rescue UK. Her role means that she must regularly review the safety procedures and risk procedures for transporting dogs to the UK. She has also attended seminars with The Dog’s Trust relating to rescues operating abroad. She is finding it increasingly frustrating that the confusion between the parasites is leading to prejudice against foreign dogs, and therefore a lack of interest in adopting from other countries.

“The Diofilaria Immitis [foreign Heartworm] is a tropical disease! I fail to recognise such weather in the UK… So believe me when I say there is no chance that the mosquitoes will carry the illness from the infected rescue dog in the UK to a native dog. People need to realise that the UK may have midges, and gnats and some mosquitoes, but not the ones capable of spreading the parasite. New cases of Lungworm – ‘French Heartworm’ – originate from the wildlife in the UK that has the native version of the parasite.

Furthermore, in the UK vets routinely prescribe Nextguard Spectra as a preventative treatment of many parasites. I am really pleased about this, because it’s the strongest prevention on the market for the overseas Heartworm – even though you don’t have it in this country, and the UK Lungworm. Nextguard Spectra is really effective for both species as a preventative.”

After years of experience, and based on scientific research, Klaudia does offer a warning to other rescues and UK veterinarians who may not be as familiar with the foreign Heartworm treatment. This is because recently a UK vet nearly gave one of her infected rescue dogs the incorrect treatment, which would have been fatal.

“If you have brought a dog to the UK who is already infected with the Heartworm parasite, you must advise your vet and tell them NEVER to use Nexguard Spectra. This is lethal for the animal, they should look to use Advocate alongside Doxycycline for up to 4 months, then test to see if the dog is still positive.

The reason for this is that if the vet only gives Nexguard Spectra the worms inside the dog’s major organs (which grow up to 30cm) will die… but in doing so they have not been shrunk down and starved by the antibiotic Doxycycline. This means that they will block pulmonary arteries. Whereas if the dog has been correctly treated, with Advocate and Doxycycline, the worms will have become skinny and weak because they have been starved of the bacteria they eat, and then the dog’s body can break them down, and they pass through without blockage.

There is no need for prednisolone as it slows down the process, it should only be used if the immiticide injection treatment has been used. This is usually in severe cases.”

Her final advice on the confusion between the parasitic worm species sets out the clear differences between UK Lungworm and Overseas Heartworm.

“Possibly the reason for the mix-up is Heartworm [Diofilaria Immitis] causes pulmonary arteries to be blocked, sometimes in the lungs, but cannot be called Lungworm anymore because Angiostrongylus Vasorum [UK parasite] is claiming that name. Then someone decided to name the UK parasite ‘French Heartworm’ even though it only affects the lungs. This thing is sort of in the same way that the pandemic in 1918 was named ‘Spanish Flu’, and the way Donald Trump called Covid 19 “China Plague”. Adding a foreign country name to the parasite or any disease only instils fear and prejudice, promoting xenophobia.”

Link to the original article that caused concern:

Leave a Reply